Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The face of reform

If you haven't already read this, it's a must-read for anyone interested in the Legion of Christ and the recent statement putting a papal envoy in charge of the order; Steve Skojec shares some insights as someone who was once very much inside the Legion:

I was personally involved with the Legionaries for a long time. I began going on retreats with them in the 9th grade, was leading a chapter of their ECYD youth group by the time I was in the 11th grade, and after working as a counselor at a summer camp there, I attended The Highlands School in Irving, Texas for my senior year. At the Highlands, I was not only a student, but a boarder - the only one at the time - and I lived in community with the priests, brother, and "co-workers" (full-time volunteers who live in Legionary communities) for the duration of the school year.

I was the first young man's Regnum Christi team captain in the United States (or so I was told. One never knows what they'll say to build you up.) I did missionary work with them in the Bahamas, Texas, Mexico, New York, Canada, and personally laid the groundwork for and led the first mission they did in Miami, Florida. I taught 7th and 8th grade religion at their Pinecrest Academy in Atlanta, while I spent my own time as a "co-worker" after High School graduation. I even spent a few days in the seminary during one summer, after the assistant territorial director at the time told me he "knew" I had a vocation "the first time" he saw me. (Fortunately for me, it didn't stick.) [...]

I knew that people were being lied to, hurt, slandered, and ultimately damaged by their involvement with the Legion. I saw good Catholics go wild upon departure from the inner ranks of the Legion and Regnum Christi, even lose their faith. Some sort of corruption of authentic Catholicism was manifest. I was persuaded that individuals were made to believe they had vocations they didn't possess. And I knew, beyond a doubt, that the Legionary approach to the Faith was Machiavellian and dangerous. Yet even as I became increasingly convinced that something was deeply rotten at the core of "the movement" - a rot I became certain had to be traced to the founder - I had never personally seen any evidence that things were as revoltingly horrific as they actually were. I saw the side effects, but was all-but-completely unaware of the real root cause of the disease. [...]

Another e-mail I received recently revealed that this same Legionary priest is telling RC members in his area that what is happening with the Vatican right now are merely "tweaks" to the Legion.

These reports lack independent substantiation, and as such should be taken with the appropriate grain of salt. They are, however, true to form not only as relates to my own experiences, but also to information I'm hearing from people still involved with the order or the lay movement. There is a die-hard core that seems constitutionally unable to believe that this institution which is at the very center of their lives is fundamentally corrupted, and thus must be fundamentally transformed.

Personally, I've spent too much time on the inside to believe a transformation is truly possible. "Integration" into the foundational philosophy and method of the movement is perhaps the highest goal of any Legionary. Without something extremely substantive to replace the vision, writings, and persona of the founder, I can't imagine there will be enough to hold the order together in the future.

You really have to read the whole thing; the excerpts I've posted here give an idea, but without the whole piece one might easily dismiss what's here as the "sour grapes" of someone who left the Legion a long time ago--and it has been my experience that those in the Legion are very good at doing exactly that whenever they encounter substantive criticism.

But what Skojec writes is powerful and true. How do you reform an order when some of its members are even now claiming to be breathing a sigh of relief that the pope went out of his way to say that their vocations are real and their charism is true (even if it needs to be redefined) and that the great work of the Legion and Regnum Christi and the Movement is so very, very important to Christ and to His Church and to the Holy Father that even though their founder has been declared to have lived a life "...devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling..." the pope has essentially assured them that they are to continue, despite the real and heavy and painful suffering they are enduring right now that everybody (except those selfish victims of Maciel) seems to understand, in that Great Work of the Legion and the Movement?

I think the Legion is being given a chance, here--that is, that individual priests and lay members of the Legion are being given a chance to start an actual religious order. What that order will be called, what its charism will be, or what it will even look like is very much in flux at this point. But a new order emerging out of the old one can only happen if those inside the order repudiate, firmly and without looking back, not only Maciel himself, but every aspect of their lives, formation, spirituality and disciplines which came directly from him--and that can't happen so long as the members themselves think they can remove Maciel by a mere incision, like the removal of an unsightly and painful ingrown toenail, instead of by prolonged treatments of radiation, like the spiritual cancer he left behind calls for.

Now, as I've said elsewhere, I do think that the statement by the Vatican is a very good start: the harshness of the language, the removal of any of the "flawed vessel" nonsense in regard to Maciel, and most importantly the spelling out of a need for a redefined charism are all very positive signs. But the statement's most important aspect is that appointment of a papal envoy to lead the Legion. We won't know how successful any attempt at reformation of the order will be until we see how the envoy proceeds, and what steps are taken to remove the poison from the minds of those who still, though they might deny it even to themselves, follow Maciel.

What would reform look like? That is, what would a truly reformed Legion of Christ (under new management, and possibly with a different name) look like?

I have a few ideas. Granted, some of these may come across as flippant; but they're not meant to be. Anyone who knows how controlling the Legion was of the smallest details of seminarians' and priests' lives understands this. So, in no particular order--reformed Legion priests:

--would include men of homely appearance from impoverished families, to a much greater degree than now (not so many of what some female Catholics sometimes teasingly term "Father Whatashame," for instance);

--would be able to part their hair any darned way they wanted to, or not at all;

--would be seen, publicly, eating apples or bananas without the use of utensils;

--would have prayerbooks and devotional habits that were not "Legion specific" but that included the spiritual traditions and devotions which all Catholics share;

--would be capable of having a conversation with lay Catholics, especially wealthy ones, without asking for donations;

--would be capable of having a conversation with lay Catholics without trying to recruit them for Regnum Christi, or to recruit any of their children for the Legion;

--would not display any pride, nor use any phrases about how orthodox the order is, how much the pope loves the order, or how the Legion is the healthiest religious order around;

--would display sorrow and shame over the sins of the founder and over the pain of his many victims;

--would be dedicated to the cause of just restitution for those victims, even if that meant closing Legion schools or other apostolates and "downsizing" various works in order to meet this demand of justice;

--would be clearly obedient to diocesan bishops, and would neither claim for themselves, nor for the members of Regnum Christi, any kind of special status as being somehow "better" than all those awful run-of-the-mill, Vatican II, happy-clappy, guitar-playing/On Eagles' Wings singing Catholics;

--would humbly offer their help in parishes, and would encourage Regnum Christi members to do the same, telling them not to start "parallel" religious education or youth group efforts, but to volunteer with the existing parish structures...

...and that's just for starters, and doesn't include what I think ought to be a necessary interim period in which a moratorium on recruitment for both the Legion and Regnum Christi ought to be enforced, among other things.

Like Steve Skojec, I can't really fathom any of this coming to pass. I think that once these sorts of reforms--and I'm sure many more will be instituted, as well--start to be put in place by whomever the pope appoints as the papal envoy in charge of the Legion, we will see many, many Legion priests and lay Regnum Christi members quietly fading away from the order. Remove those things specific to the Legion which Maciel instituted and in which Legion members still seem, to me, to take an inordinate amount of pride, and you have removed the Legion. That's not to say that a fine religious order might not eventually grow up out of the ruins--in fact, if humility, charity toward the victims of sexual abuse, and a desire to aid in the mission of local parishes were to characterize this new order I think it might have a reasonable chance of success. But how many of those currently in the Legion will embrace such a new and different sort of vocation?


Nat said...

"that can't happen so long as the members themselves think they can remove Maciel by a mere incision"


An admin at the Legion-owned register site agreed with Fr. Cathal Deveney today that "it won’t be a simple pruning but one that will go much deeper then we can think"

How deep? Think of C.S. Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

"Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off?


ron chandonia said...

The list is BRILLIANT! Will it happen? I wouldn't hold my breath, but I would certainly hold on tight to my pocketbook. BTW, it would be a good idea to do a piece on the Legion and its short, unhappy tenure at Southern Catholic College. This week's GA Bulletin article on the subject would be a great place to start:


Beth said...

The list is an excellent start, i completely agree. Let's see what happens...

Sister C said...

Your list made me smile in recognition. (I live up the road from an LC center.) Yes, I think these things would be a good start.

While I am very glad that the Vatican is taking things in hand - and may the Holy Spirit guide them every step of the way! - I cannot help feeling sad and sorry for the people whose lives are about to be turned upside down, for the "true believers", the fervent followers who actually believe the things they are saying.

They must be devastated, confused, heartbroken. Their psychological defense mechanisms must be working overtime.

I pray for them, and I also pray that this scandal, in the strictest sense of the word, does not do terrible harm to so-called "simple Catholics" around the world.

I am expressing myself badly. I hope I'm not misunderstood.

Anonymous said...

- and to have a special ministry to victims of sexual abuse. When faced with one who has been beaten and stripped and left for dead, to be moved with compassion and offer help, rather than to pass by on the other side.

Paul Pfaff

Anonymous said...

I think you should add this to your list:

Remove all of MM writings and pictures from the Legion/RC entirely.

I bet the writings are still being used. My understanding is that they are a huge part of the whole LC/RC experience.

Imagine reading these for years and then realizing that theguy that wrote them could have been abusing kids the same day he was doing the writing.

Jeannette said...

I think that not only do Regnum Christi members need to stop reading anything that was purportedly written by MM, but also they need to be re-"formed" as Catholics; there is some really bad formation going on, and has been for quite some time. What to do about someone who has been studying this for the past 15 years?

Envoy II, Letter 95, p. 288:
"And never forget that God's will for you is shown in the law of God and of the Church and in the duties of your state in life. This all includes the spirit of Regnum Christi. So you should cling to it as to the rock that that will allow you to be faithful and happy. Love it with the same love that you love Christ. Accept it integrally with simplicity and faith as the path of your holiness. Give yourselves to living it authentically and totally as the source of fulfillment and peace for your hearts."
(here's the scary part) "Do not live outside the spirit of the Movement because then you will open up a chasm between God and yourselves. Never underrate it, because that would mean you undervalue God's love which in it has given you an easy and fast road to holiness. Do not leave it because sooner or later you will find that it was your egotism, pride, vanity, or sensuality you were feeding your lives on rather than God's holy will."

Charlotte said...

I always wondered why all those guys' hair looked the same!

TROLL said...

I've found myself scrutinizing my LC calendar to see if their hair is parted on the left side, and the only thing I can see for sure is that their hair is short, when they have any at all. I've parted my hair on the left all of my life, so there must be a deeper meaning in that...fate, maybe?

; )

Deirdre Mundy said...

Some ex-apostolics have commented on how difficult it was to get their hair to go the "Legion way"

At least with a tonsure, anyone can manage it!

TROLL said...

Well, at least they didn't part it in the middle.

Beth said...

That quote from Jeanette is very scary. They were formed by this?
They need a great deal of prayer and professional counseling. What a mess.